- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 1, 2005

But Katrina leaves Bush all wet

The powers-that-be got caught with their pants down and Big Mama was at the ready. If only Katrina hadn’t blown away the woodshed.

All eyes are on America as post-Katrina rescue and relief efforts are underway. The state and federal governments could have mobilized sooner. When disaster strikes, people struggling against the ravaging winds and water of a category five hurricane don’t need to see their governor in tears.

The stories we are hearing today are far different from the ones over last weekend, when Katrina had yet to muster up the strength to take on the Gulf Coast. A week ago, people were talking about riding out the hurricane; today, people are complaining that governments were ill-prepared. Emergency personnel don’t chase hurricanes. (Thank goodness Fox News does.)

Bureaucrats, regardless of political persuasion, are always slow to act. After all, they’re the ones blowing all the answers in the wind talking. Fortunately, blessedly, ordinary Americans are responding.

Katrina told us she was coming, debuting on Aug. 25 at 3:35 pm, and within three hours roaring ashore near North Miami Beach. Between the night of Aug. 25 and the early morning hours of the 29th, Katrina’s intensity had reached category five, with winds and ferocious downpours too much for the Gulf Coast.

Residents are now “refugees” — a political term usually reserved for people fleeing one country for another because of war or persecution. These very people — who tried to ride out Katrina — are now being welcomed to Texas and other states, where they will receive things New Orleans no longer can offer — food, shelter and clothing, even a drink of safe water.

Tens of thousands of others are in need, too. Aging and sickly veterans are being moved to facilities here in Washington. The Red Cross, Salvation Army and others on the ground are trying to feed and clothe. Men and women of the cloth are soothing desperate souls. Men and women of medicine are dispensing pharmaceuticals. Alphonso Jackson, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, must bring housing online in at least three states. The governors of Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas are trying to make sure that children of the “refugees” won’t miss too much schooling. The Army Corps of Engineers is working feverishly on the levees in New Orleans, but will eventually have to turn its attention toward ensuring that swollen waters won’t create another Poseidon-like disaster.

The first tip of my hat goes to the Coast Guard, whose crews last week this time were rescuing Floridians cast about by Katrina. Earlier this week in New Orleans, Coast Guard helicopter crews rescued, one by one, victims on rooftops who thought that, any minute, the rising waters would reach them before the Coast Guard.

This is who we are. We are rescuers. And the despite the bureaucrats in the nation’s capital and the state capitals, we rise to the occasion. Many of the veterans who had to be bused and flown to Washington are living proof: They saved the Jews from Hitler’s onslaught. Right now in the Gulf area — our Gulf area — the relatives of people who work for the Federal Emergency Management Administration, armed forces, and various police and fire departments, health and human services agencies — as well as the nonprofits that we expect to be there in a pinch — are proof, are rescuers, too: They helped save the Vietnamese, Koreans, Arabs and others from the grip of tyranny and/or persecution.

And rescue we must. Indeed, as the governors from the areas stricken by Katrina have said, and rightly so, the first order of business is to save lives.

The easy work — the reconstruction — has not yet begun. But even before we start rebuilding the infrastructure of the Gulf Coast, we must immediately begin family reconstruction — that is, preserving the lives that have been rescued. To be sure, victims trekked through a wicked witches’ brew — river and sewer waters mixed with oil and gas, rats and gators, even corpses and all manner of human filth. How do we ward off the public-health consequences of that? Children and teachers will be out of school for months. Are state and federal governments going to give them a break on standardized tests and other mandates? What about jobs for those who lost them due to Katrina? Will unemployment funds and policies be accommodating? How soon will local courts (child support and adoptions) and federal judicial systems be up and fully operational?

For whatever reasons, people knew Katrina was coming but decided to stay put. Now some of them and their loved ones are paying the price.

I can come up with a half-dozen reasons why I would have stayed, too; the powers-that-be have no excuses. All the president and his men can do now is hitch up their pants and get busy.

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